Encouraging innovation in the workplace: gain competitive advantage

07 September 2018

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Encouraging innovation in the workplace: gain competitive advantage

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It goes without saying that great ideas make good business- so organisations should absolutely be encouraging innovation in the workplace. Afterall, a great new idea can provide competitive advantage. Innovation is probably up there with the most overused buzzwords in business. In fact, if you read a piece of marketing material and don’t see the word innovation, then everyone involved needs a pat on the back.

Having said that, let’s not pretend that innovation, in its truest form, is not critical to business success and competitive edge. Yet innovation is linked to creativity which is famously opposed to process and structure. Despite this, big businesses all over the world have innovation teams, programs, and processes. If big businesses do this then we must assume it works and it must work consistently, so there must be a secret, right?


Where does innovation come from?

Do they lock the best brains in the business away in a room fuelled with caffeine? Do they create magical ‘creative spaces’ where their staff can spend time and be inspired? Do they pour huge amounts of money into experimentation? Well the answer is probably partly yes to all these things; quality of people, places and opportunity, but there is also another thing- diversity. Diversity of ideas, but also diversity of sources for those ideas.

Now before we move any further a clarification must be made. Variety and openness is good, creativity by committee is not.

Innovation proves most successful when people are involved.

There are several ways you can read that statement, but there are three key elements which are proven to create results. Firstly, it is involving people in the broadest sense, getting ideas from a diverse group of people. The stereotypical ‘innovator’ personality, the person who can’t stop having ideas, who is outspoken and active and always on, has been proven to not be the only personality type able to innovate. In reality, whilst these people may often be the ‘front’, there is no personality type restriction on creativity and innovation. Ability to innovate is in fact driven by several other factors which mean that diversity of mindset, personality and background are more likely to produce consistent results then reliance on ‘the ideas man’.

The second point, and the key to having this diverse team work effectively, is having a team which encourages ‘involvement’ or ‘psychological safety’. Effectively this means the creation of an environment in which people feel safe to share ideas. Google found this to be the single common factor between successfully innovative teams. Similarly, research conducted by MIT has proven that the most innovative teams are the ones in which everyone in the team contributes almost evenly to discussion. 

This all combines to a fairly simple message, innovative teams are not teams made up of a single ‘type’, they don’t centre around a single superstar, they are teams which work together effectively to solve problems. They are accepting of ideas in the pursuit of a solution, they collaborate effectively and deeply and work together to move the whole team towards a shared goal. 

Ideagen meeting

The third point to make here is that involving people must be aligned with engaging them. Without motivation or desire to solve the problem better, it is likely that it won’t happen. Make sure people are not just ‘good’ but ‘engaged’. Again, ‘intrinsic motivation’ has been proven to be critical to successful innovation. There is a famous quote attributed to Antoine de Saint Exupery that I will always remember hanging on the wall of a strategy director’s office: “if you want to build a ship don’t drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

The statement is simple, but the result is powerful. Align your team to a goal and open the opportunity to solve the problem.  

Winning business through innovation

What does this mean in terms of winning business through innovation? It means involving your core team and being open to doing things differently. Enable collaboration in your team and provide an environment and the tools in which all your key team members can contribute. It means encouraging an environment in which innovation is a team task and having an idea is open to everyone. 

Encouraging innovation means building teams that are not afraid to share, give them a purpose which engages and excites, make collaboration easy, and watch the results roll in.

Nurture innovation with software tools

We’ve talked a lot about innovation and encouraging teamwork and collaboration. While you might picture a group of people getting together in a room to brainstorm, there are numerous different ways for teams to work together and share ideas. In the era of digitalisation, flexible and remote working options are becoming ever more common. Having sophisticated document review software in place gives you an online centralised place for everyone to work and share ideas on how to make it better. It eliminates the need to email attachments and allows multiple contributors to work within the document in real time without causing duplications.

Find out more about how our document review software can help with encouraging innovation in the workplace and streamlining collaboration.

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Written by

Clair Blakeway

Clair shows companies how digital tools can make working life easier and deliver better quality to their customers. Her experience covers SaaS in regulatory compliance, workforce management and education. As Content Marketing Executive at Ideagen, Clair highlights how our expertise and product portfolio can help businesses solve their safety problems.

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